A WORKING group will be formed to explore the issues affecting refugee and asylum seeker support in north and west Cumbria which were highlighted by a recent report, it has been agreed.

Members of Cumberland Council's people overview and scrutiny committee met at Allerdale House in Workington on Friday (March 1) to grill council officers working in that sector.

In addition, members called for an information campaign by the council, clarifying definitions and data, to 'bust myths and false information' circulated about refugees and asylum seekers.

Committee chairman, councillor Chris Wills (Upperby, Lib Dems) said there was "deliberate nastiness" directed at asylum seekers and added: "This item has had a level of interest outside of this committee."

They were told that in the council area:

  • 440 people were in the area through the Homes For Ukraine initiative;
  • 96 individuals had used the Afghan Relocation Assistance Policy with 86 remaining in the area;
  • 171 individuals had used the United Kingdom Resettlement Scheme;
  • approximately 120 individuals were referred to Asylum Dispersal;
  • and a family of five was in the area using the Community Sponsorship Programme.

An officer told members: "We've just got one family of five people who are supported - it's a relatively small scheme."

Councillor Sam Pollen (Egremont, Labour) said those who were transferred to Asylum Dispersal were given just a month's notice to find new accommodation.

The report states: "Asylum Dispersal is new to Cumberland and as a local authority we have been allocated 166 bed spaces.

"Serco is the northwest regional contracted provider for the Home Office, who procure accommodation across the region.

"All properties are homes of multiple occupancy (HMOs) and can accommodate four or five individuals per property.

"Once an individual within dispersal accommodation receives their Leave to Remain (LTR) they are given 28 days’ notice to leave, the bed space is then reoccupied."

Cllr Pollen said there was a problem with housing in the Cumberland area but there were issues with homes and homelessness nationally and he added: "It's adding to a problem which we've failed to address."

He clarified that it was an issue that the Government had failed to tackle and asylum seekers being told to find new accommodation would exacerbate the problem in the area.

Cllr Wills suggested that they form the working group to look at the issues related to the report and Cllr Pollen said there 1,800 empty homes in the Cumberland Council area and wondered if they could be used.

He said: "We don't want people getting refugee status in our area and then being made homeless."

Councillor Helen Tucker (Cockermouth North, Labour) highlighted another issue with the 28 days' notice if the letter was delayed in the post. She added: "It is 28 days from issuing that notice, not from its receipt."

Cllr Wills suggested that they would gather together the working group together and councillor Helen Davidson (Belah, Green Party) said she would like to see health issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers included.

Members agreed with the two proposals and noted the contents of the report.